Donnie Schone believes his Watkins Memorial High School baseball team has an opportunity to reach its goals this season.
However, the 10th-year coach knows that the Warriors must have the right mentality to do that.
"The kids have to understand that it doesn't matter what their record is right now," Schone said. "I know we're going to have a good season, but how good it is will be up to them. We have to keep them level-headed and focused.
"We've got a mixture of passionate kids and fun-loving kids and we need to mold that. We want to have fun, but we also need to stay focused and work hard at the same time. We've got some talent and the ability to have a special season."
The Warriors were 7-1 overall and 1-0 in the OCC-Capital Division before playing Mount Vernon on April 12. Their league game against Delaware on April 10 was suspended because of bad weather and will be completed at a later date.
Pitching has been the key to Watkins Memorial's strong start.
"Our pitching is very good and deep," Schone said. "I wouldn't have a problem running five or even six guys out to the mound for an important game. I mean, look at what we have. Dan Sexton and Tony Winters are the leaders, but Charlie Schmidt, Chandler Day, William VanHoose are very good in their own right and we've barely used Ricky Fry."
Day pitched a one-hitter in a 2-1 win over previously unbeaten Thomas Worthington on April 6. Sexton allowed only six hits in a 10-0, six-inning win over Delaware on April 8 after throwing a no-hitter in a 6-0 win over Olmsted Falls in the opener March 30.
The Warriors' only loss through eight games came against Lake Orion (Mich.), 6-1 on April 5.
"They are supposed to be a top-five team in Michigan and we gave up four in the first inning and then settled down and battled," Schone said. "We made five errors in that game and it was the only game thus far that our defense struggled."
Senior left fielder Cory Derugen doubled off the fence to drive in Fry with the winning run in the seventh inning of an 8-7 win over Massillon Perry in the second game of a doubleheader April 6. Derugen was lost for the season against Delaware.
"He was running to second base and preparing to slide when I heard this loud pop and he suffered a major broken leg," Schone said. "The ambulance came and carted him off the field. You could see the bone pushing (against) the skin. It was similar to (University of Louisville basketball player Kevin) Ware's injury.
"It's tough because he kept saying, 'I wanted to be part of this OCC championship run.' We assured him he would be. He missed his sophomore season, just when he was coming into his own and feeling comfortable, (when) he popped his shoulder out."
Derugen broke the tibia and fibula in his left leg and underwent surgery to have a titanium rod inserted April 9. Fry was expected to take Derugen's spot in left field, Schone said.
"I like the fact that we're getting production throughout the order and Cory was solid at No. 9 because he's a better hitter than being ninth, but we used him there to set things up for Winters at the top," Schone said. "Everybody was doing their part, but we have more guys ready to step in and produce."
In addition to Winters, catcher Justin Treinish, second baseman Jordan Miller, third baseman Steve Asbury and Schmidt have been the team's offensive leaders, Schone said.
Softball team working hard to make progress
The softball team lost its first six games, but coach Tammy Ulrich sees improvements over last season when the Warriors finished 1-23.
"I think our offense is stronger than it was last year, our errors are down and we're competing better," Ulrich said. "Our mentality will be key. We don't want to lose ugly. It's OK for the girls to get upset about it. That doesn't bother me. But they have to get upset after the game and then move on so they can come out and start the next day with a positive outlook. If they let it stay in their minds, that's when it becomes a problem.
"We need to continue to work hard and seek improvements."
Watkins Memorial lost its OCC-Capital opener to Delaware, 23-2 on April 8. The Warriors trailed 2-0 through four innings, but Delaware scored five runs in the fifth, four in the sixth and 12 in the top of the seventh.
The next day, the Warriors trailed Licking Heights 3-2 through five innings before allowing two runs in the sixth and four in the seventh en route to a 9-2 loss. Delaware and Licking Heights both were 6-0 before April 10.
Against Delaware, junior Shanna Cashdollar started in the circle and yielded three hits through four innings before running into trouble in the fifth and being relieved by freshman Brooke Schindler.
"We've got young pitching and I was pleased with Shanna into the fifth, but then she started missing her spots," Ulrich said. "Brooke Schindler struggled with her control (six walks) so we came back with Shanna, but by then (Delaware) was crushing the ball.
"We need to mix up our pitches more, hit our spots and keep them off balance, keep them guessing by the third time around the order."
The Warriors had six hits against Delaware, with sophomore second baseman Devon Atchison going 2-for-3 with an RBI. Catcher Kaitlyn Snider, first baseman Olivia Casto, designated player Renee Theibert and center fielder Kim Romshe each had one hit.
"Kaitlyn Snider and freshman (right fielder) Sara Beach have been our two most consistent hitters and Olivia Casto gave us some good at-bats (against Delaware)," Ulrich said.